The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 40
"When I go out," he says, "I come back with something. It
may not be a big or long contract, but it is basic. I'm convinced there's opportunities for manufacturing out there."
was driving a truck, as his purchasing manager. The
39-year-old is the father of a boy and a girl, 12 and 4.
SYNCOM ELECTRONICS CORPORATION
Scott Rice and Chris
Gray "The work is
highly technical and
The building on Campbell Avenue in the heart of
downtown Roanoke is big, rambling and almost totally
anonymous. It became the first factory downtown in
many years when new owners Scott Rice and Chris
Gray asked for a rezoning after buying it in 1998 in
order to put their four-year-old company in a better
place to succeed. The city's center had been factory-free
since the middle of the 20th century.
There are 16,000 square feet on five floors in the
building and it is apparent that an interior designer
was not among the workers hired to get it up to speed.
There's a sign outside, but it's low-profile, and the
front and back doors stay closed and locked. That's
not so much for secrecy as it is for privacy. There's
work going on inside; technical, careful work; essential
work. SynCom makes wiring harnesses for industry,
the military, aerospace and commercial purposes. The
high-tech wiring-some of it goes into fighter planes
and Navy ships, for example-is put together by hand
by SynCom trained technicians, which is distinctly
40 | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2017
low-tech. The work is so specific that there's no training for it outside, so employees (22 of them now) are
handpicked and taught.
Rice, 49, and Gray, 60, worked together doing
pretty much the same things in North Carolina until
they determined they could do the job better, more
efficiently and more profitably. They started their own
company and found a level of success almost immediately. In recent years, says Rice, a native Roanoker,
growth has been a steady 30 percent a year.
Gray, a Canadian, says the company doesn't have a
sales force (it had one once, but the sales people kept
getting orders wrong), so there is a reliance on faceto-face interaction with potential clients. "The work is
highly technical and complex," says Scott, "and sales
people don't understand it." When "we interface with
customers, they are very receptive. Rarely do we pitch
and not sell."
Like so many small manufacturers, SynCom is laser-focused with its products. In the past, it has even
helped a company develop a product that was to be
produced in China.
"We made the first million," says Rice, "before manufacturing went overseas." The idea, he insists, is to do